Tinkering Around with Trays

|exploration     |cooperation     |experimentation      |creativity

TINKERING ˈtiNGkər/ improving something by making changes to it.

The Oxford Dictionaries says that to tinker is to attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory (unfocused) way.” 

The Free Dictionary defines a tinkerer as “one who enjoys experimenting with and repairing machine parts.”

Tinkering is about slowing down and getting curious about the mechanics and mysteries of the everyday stuff around you. It’s whimsical, enjoyable, and ultimately about inquiry. It’s also about making something, and what’s powerful is it reveals something about you as you go. Because when you tinker, you’re not following a step-by-step set of directions that leads to a tidy end result.

HDLD states||| “Encouraging the creative expression of ideas, feelings, and interpretations using a variety of materials also helps solidify children’s learning, enhances their creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and strengthens their memory and sense of identity.” (How Does Learning Happen, p. 42)

Thinking about Tinker Trays as Materials in the Classroom

Reflective Questions:

  • How do the children have the ability to manipulate the materials as they see fit?
  • How do the materials inspire the children to be engaged?
  • How do you ensure play materials are open ended to support children with
  • inquiry?

flowers and cutting (2)

Tinker Trays allow children to play with assumptions about the way something works, and  investigate. Children feel they have permission to fiddle with this and dabble with that.

tinker tray (2)

tinkering (2)

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Using familiar materials in unfamiliar ways

The world is full of stuff that was invented to do a specific job. But taking a common object and putting it to new use will likely result in unexpected, surprising explorations—

Fall (2)

cutlery tray (2)


Materials you can use to fill your tinker tray:

  • wine corks
  • small tiles
  • wooden clothespins
  • golf tees
  • straws
  • play dough
  • sticks
  • skewers
  • cotton balls
  • rocks
  • bolts and nuts
  • natural flowers
  • pipe cleaners
  • ribbons or string
  • wooden pieces from the hardware store
  • anything – be creative!

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Assessment for Quality Improvement-Toronto (Preschool, Toddlers): A sufficient number of the following art materials are accessible: Collage materials, Three-dimensional materials


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